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Jorgensen v. Blagojevich

May 20, 2004


[6] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Rarick

[7]  Docket Nos. 97624, 97656 cons.-Agenda 10-March 2004.

[8]  The issue before us is whether the General Assembly and the Governor violated the Illinois Constitution when they attempted to eliminate the cost-of-living adjustments to judicial salaries provided by law for the 2003 and 2004 fiscal years. The circuit court declared that they did. In addition, it ordered the Comptroller to include the cost-of-living adjustments for the 2004 fiscal year in the judges' paychecks. The Governor and Comptroller have appealed. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

[9]  Article VI, section 14, of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, §14) provides, in pertinent part:

"Judges shall receive salaries provided by law which shall not be diminished to take effect during their terms of office. All salaries and such expenses as may be provided by law shall be paid by the State ***."

[11]   The Salaries Act (5 ILCS 290/0.1 (West 2002)) established the specific salaries the state was required to pay its judges for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 1982, and ending June 30, 1983. The Act further provided that judicial salaries were to be increased the following fiscal year. Beginning July 1, 1983, the state was obligated to pay judges either the increased rate set forth in the statute or the amount "set by the Compensation Review Board, whichever is greater, to be paid out of the State Treasury." 5 ILCS 290/3 (West 2002) (judges of the supreme court); 5 ILCS 290/3.1 (West 2002) (judges of the appellate court); 5 ILCS 290/3.2 (West 2002) (judges of the circuit court); 5 ILCS 290/3.3(a) (West 2002) (associate judges of the circuit court).

[12]   The Compensation Review Board (the Board) was created by the Compensation Review Act (25 ILCS 120/1 et seq. (West 2002)). Through the Act, the General Assembly conferred on the Board the power to determine the salaries of various government officials, including judges. The Board is required to undertake periodic reevaluations of those salaries and may adjust them based on various factors. Following its review, which includes public hearings, the Board determines the compensation for each of the covered offices and files a report with the General Assembly. Consistent with article VI, section 14, of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, §14), which forbids the diminishment of judicial salaries, the Compensation Review Act does not allow the Board to reduce the salaries paid to judges. With respect to judges, the Board may either leave salaries unchanged or increase them. 25 ILCS 120/4 (West 2002).

[13]   After the Board files its report, the General Assembly "may disapprove [it] in whole, or reduce it in whole proportionately." 25 ILCS 120/5 (West 2002). Taking such action, however, requires adoption of a resolution by a majority of the members of the Senate and the House within 30 session days after each of those bodies has next convened after the Board files its report. 25 ILCS 120/5 (West 2002). If the General Assembly fails to adopt a resolution regarding the Board's report in the manner and within the time specified by law, the salaries specified in the Board's report take effect, and the General Assembly is required to appropriate the funds necessary to pay those salaries. 25 ILCS 120/6 (West 2002).

[14]   Pursuant to its authority under the Compensation Review Act, the Board issued a report in 1990. That report set specific salaries for each of the offices and positions covered by the Act. It also determined that the salaries for each of those offices and positions were to include cost-of-living adjustments, commonly known as COLAs. The COLAs were automatic annual adjustments based on the "Employment Cost Index, Wages and Salaries, By Occupation and Industry Groups: State and Local Government Workers: Public Administration," published each year by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the United States Department of Labor. The COLAs were deemed to be a component of salary fully vested when the Board's report became law. The first adjustment under the new COLA provision was to take effect July 1, 1991. Subsequent adjustments were to be made on July 1 each year thereafter.

[15]   The Board submitted its 1990 report to the General Assembly as required by the Compensation Review Act. The General Assembly adopted a resolution pertaining to that report known as Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 192. SJR 192 reduced "in whole proportionately" the amount of compensation set by the Board for the various offices and positions. In so doing, however, it expressly approved those portions of the Board's report establishing annual cost-of-living adjustments for the affected offices and positions, including judges. In 2002, the General Assembly suspended the COLA implemented by SJR 192 for the state's 2003 fiscal year by enacting Public Act 92-607. That legislation, which was codified as section 5.5 of the Compensation Review Act (25 ILCS 120/5.5 (West 2002)), did not purport to repeal either SJR 192 or any provision of the Compensation Review Act. It merely specified that the state officers and officials covered by the Act were prohibited from receiving any increase in compensation based on the COLA provisions of SJR 192 "for or during the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2002." 25 ILCS 120/5.5 (West 2002). Based on this legislation, none of the affected officers and officials, including judges, were paid the COLA component of their salaries during the 2003 fiscal year. Had the 2003 COLA not been suspended, it would have amounted to 3.8% of the officers' and officials' salaries.

[16]   In the months following enactment of Public Act 92-607, the General Assembly determined that the statute, as applied to judges, violated the prohibition against diminishment of salaries set forth in article VI, section 14, of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, §14). Based on that determination, it passed Senate Bill (SB)100, which amended section 5.5 of the Compensation Review Act to include the following qualification:

"Notwithstanding the provisions of Public Act 92-607 or any other law, the cost-of-living adjustment otherwise authorized by Senate Joint Resolution 192 *** for judges shall be deemed to have taken effect for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2002 and shall be payable." 93d Ill. Gen. Assem., Senate Bill 100, 2003 Sess.

[18]   SB 100 was passed by the Senate on April 8, 2003. It was immediately sent to the House, where it passed on May 31, 2003. Because Public Act 92-607 affected only the COLA for the 2003 fiscal year, there was no need for the General Assembly to take any additional remedial action with respect to the COLA for the 2004 fiscal year. Under the provisions of SJR 192, judges were entitled to begin receiving their 2004 fiscal year COLA on July 1, 2003. The amount of that COLA was 2.8%. The General Assembly included funds to pay that COLA in its FY2004 appropriations bill, designated as House Bill (HB) 2700, which passed both houses of the legislature in the spring of 2003.

[19]   During the 2003 fiscal year, the total appropriation for the State of Illinois was approximately $39,308,238,000. Of that, only $298,276,700, or approximately seven tenths of one percent (0.7%), was appropriated to the judiciary. This percentage remained unchanged from the previous fiscal year and was typical of recent appropriation levels for the judiciary.

[20]   As small a component of state spending as the judiciary's budget was, the Governor believed that the state should not allocate any additional funds to pay for the cost-of-living adjustments to judicial salaries for the 2004 fiscal year. The problem faced by the Governor in implementing his view was that neither the Compensation Review Act nor SJR 192 authorized him to intervene in the compensation process for covered officers and officials. Because he could not reduce the salaries directly, he attempted to alter them indirectly. On July 3, 2003, two days after the FY2004 COLA had taken effect pursuant to SJR 192, the Governor set out to circumvent the statutory compensation process by signing a reduction veto to HB 2700.

[21]   The portion of HB 2700 appropriating funds to the judicial branch contained no separate line item for cost-of-living adjustments. Instead, it included COLA funding along with the rest of the appropriation for judges' pay under article 15, section 5, lines 12-13, "Personal Services: judges salaries." The Governor's reduction veto removed approximately $3.9 million from those lines. Because that sum was slightly more than the amount needed to pay the judges' FY2004 COLA, the practical effect of the veto was to prevent the COLA from being implemented.

[22]   This court believed that the Governor's use of his reduction veto to circumvent the Compensation Review Act and SJR 192 violated article VI, section 14, of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, §14) as well as article II, section 1, of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. II, §1), which establishes the principle of separation of powers. Because the Governor's actions were unconstitutional, we concluded that they did not affect the state's statutory and constitutional obligations to pay judges their FY2004 COLA. At our direction, the Director of the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts (AOIC) therefore included the FY2004 COLA in the payroll tapes it submitted to the Comptroller's office for the July 2003 pay period.

[23]   The payroll tapes were submitted to the Comptroller on July 18, 2003. The Comptroller, however, refused to use those tapes, claiming he had no authority to process payment requests containing the FY2004 COLA unless and until the General Assembly decided to override the Governor's reduction veto. Believing the Comptroller's actions to be contrary to law, the Director of the AOIC resubmitted the tapes to him on July 23, 2003. When the Comptroller once again indicated that he would not process those tapes, this court issued an order in In re Illinois Judges Cost of Living Adjustment, M.R. 18893, which stated that

"the Office of the Comptroller shall process payment requests for judges' compensation, including the FY '04 judicial COLA, as submitted to the Comptroller on July 18, 2003, and resubmitted on July 23, 2003."

[25]   The ordered was filed July 24, 2003, pursuant to this court's administrative and supervisory authority for operation of the judicial branch. The same day, the Governor vetoed SB100 in an attempt to eliminate the judicial COLA for FY2003. The following day, the Hon. Benjamin E. Novoselsky, judge of the circuit court of Cook County, individually and on behalf of all other Illinois judges, petitioned for leave to bring an original mandamus action in our court pursuant to article VI, section 4(a), of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, §4(a)). That action, styled Novoselsky v. Hynes, No. 96698, asked that we issue a writ of mandamus directing the Comptroller to comply with our order of July 24, 2003, in M.R. 18893, and to pay Novoselsky and Illinois' other judges the full amount due them under the law, including the FY2004 COLA, effective July 1, 2003. Novoselsky's petition asserted that the Comptroller was required by law to include the FY2004 COLA in the judges' paychecks, that he had no discretion to alter the judges' salaries, and that his refusal to pay judges salaries reflecting their FY2004 COLA was in direct violation of the Illinois Constitution.

[26]   At the same time Judge Novoselsky filed his mandamus petition, the Hon. Ann B. Jorgensen, judge of the 18th Judicial Circuit, Du Page County, and the Hon. Stuart Nudelman, judge of the circuit court of Cook County, brought the action now before us. The action was filed in the circuit court of Cook County as a class action on behalf of all Illinois judges entitled to the FY2003 and FY2004 COLAs. It named as defendants both the Governor and the Comptroller.

[27]   The complaint contained two counts. Count I was addressed to the FY2004 COLA. It sought a declaration that the Governor's attempt to block implementation of that COLA through his reduction veto of HB 2700 was unconstitutional and void and that Illinois judges were therefore entitled to receive the COLA as a component of their salaries effective July 1, 2003. It also requested an order from the court directing the Comptroller to pay judges the full salaries to which they were entitled, including the FY2004 COLA.

[28]   Count II of the complaint concerned the FY2003 COLA. It contended that Public Act 92-607, which suspended the FY2003 COLA, violated the prohibition against diminishment of judicial salaries set forth in article VI, section 14, of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, §14) and was therefore void and of no effect. In accordance with that contention, it requested a judgment declaring that Public Act 92-607 "cannot and does not prevent the payment of cost of living adjustments due Judges on and after July 1, 2002, as required by [SJR] 192." It further requested an order from the court directing the Comptroller to authorize and issue payment to judges in the class for the portions of their salaries that had been wrongfully withheld pursuant to Public Act 92-607.

[29]   Despite this court's order of July 24, 2003, requiring the Comptroller to include the FY2004 COLA when processing the payment requests for judges' compensation submitted to him on July 18, 2003, and resubmitted on July 23, 2003, the Comptroller refused to do so. When the payment requests were processed, the Comptroller excluded the FY2004 COLA. This court therefore issued a new order, dated July 29, 2003, directing the Comptroller to appear in person to answer and show cause why he should not be held in civil contempt. In the same order, we allowed Judge Novoselsky's petition for leave to file a writ of mandamus in cause No. 96689 and established an expedited briefing schedule for the parties. We also stayed "[a]ll proceedings in an other lower court" relating to the FY2003 and FY2004 COLAs, including the proceedings in this case.

[30]   In the midst of the foregoing developments, the Comptroller moved to vacate our order of July 24, 2003, in M.R. 18893. As grounds for that motion, he complained that we should not have acted sua sponte without having a complaint or petition before us, that we had not properly served him, and that we had not given him adequate notice or an opportunity to be heard before taking action. The Comptroller did not address the substantive legal issues raised by the failure to pay judges their FY2003 and FY2004 COLAs. He merely argued that those issues would be more appropriately addressed and resolved in a proceeding such as the circuit court action initiated by Judges Jorgensen and Nudelman in this case. He asserted that if the matter proceeded in that way, he would submit to the court's jurisdiction voluntarily.

[31]   After taking the Comptroller's motion to vacate under advisement, our court ultimately concluded that allowing the matter to proceed first in the circuit court was, indeed, the better course of action. Accordingly, on July 31, 2003, we granted the motion to vacate our order dated July 24, 2003, in M.R. 18893 and discharged the related rule to show cause. We also dismissed the original mandamus action brought by Judge Novoselsky under docket No. 96689 and lifted the stay of "any lower court proceedings relating to Illinois Judges' FY'03 and FY'04 Cost of Living Adjustment."

[32]   With the stay of lower court proceedings lifted, the case before us today was allowed to go forward. The Governor filed a motion pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2002)) to dismiss the Judges' complaint on the pleadings. As authorized by section 2-619.1 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-619.1 (West 2002)), the Governor combined that motion with a motion for involuntary dismissal of the Judges' action under section 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-619 (West 2002)). The Governor sought dismissal on the pleadings on the grounds that "Article VI, Section 14 of the Illinois Constitution does not entitle Plaintiffs to COLA in Fiscal Years 2003 and 2004." His motion for involuntary dismissal asserted that count I, pertaining to the FY2004 COLA, was not ripe for adjudication and that count II, dealing with the FY2003 COLA, should be barred by laches.

[33]   Combined motions for judgment on the pleadings and involuntary dismissal were also filed by the Comptroller. One significant difference between the Comptroller's motions and those filed by the Governor is that the Comptroller did not address the legal status of the FY2003 and FY2004 COLAs or the validity of the attempts to block them. Instead, he made a narrower claim that he should be dismissed as a party "because there are no appropriations for judicial COLAs in ...

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